To The Partners Who Stick With Us Through Anxiety

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

I feel guilty—often. Every day when my husband arrives home from work and walks into the kitchen where I am with our four kids, he doesn’t know which version of me he is going to get. Will he greet overwhelmed-exhausted-anxious me or my happy-organized-enthusiastic self? It’s a gamble for both of us—and it’s freaking exhausting.

I’ve had anxiety ever since I can remember. When I was a young girl, I would wake at 5 A.M. to the sound of my dad zipping down our gravel driveway, headed to work. I’d immediately begin to pray for his safety, that he wouldn’t get in a car wreck. I continued to be the “stick in the mud” my entire childhood. You know the type—a real Nervous Nelly.

I couldn’t bring myself to break any rules—because rules were for our protection, right? I strived for perfection to avoid any possible negative consequences. Even as a teen, I never smoked a cigarette—much less anything else—had sex, drove excessively fast, or snuck out of the house. Rules were not made to be broken, in my opinion.

I pushed boundaries on occasion, especially as I neared graduating high school. I forged notes from my parents and skipped school quite a few times. For months on end, I spent our open lunch hour at my boyfriend’s house, making out and eating cookies. I attended a few parties—but that’s as risky as I got, because I was certain if I had even one illegal sip of alcohol, I’d be caught.

In college, I worked two and three jobs at a time to pay for my tuition. I never went out after work. I attended college for five years straight, earning three degrees. Jacking around wasn’t my style.

I thought I was just a good, driven person—someone who knew what she wanted and went for it. However, when I reached my thirties, I was finally and officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I went to therapy, started medication, upped my exercise and healthy eating game, and explored meditation.

Though I consider myself generally successful at managing my anxiety—by doing all the right things like a good rule-follower does—I was blindsided when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and faced months of medical trauma, including a mastectomy. Cancer definitely skyrocketed my anxiety to a level I wasn’t prepared for.

The person who bears the brunt of my anxiety the most is my husband. We’ve been married 16 years and counting, and he knows me well. He’s also stood by my side through it all, including four adoptions and breast cancer surgery recovery. He attended every single post-op appointment with me, cleared my surgical drains for weeks on end, and held my hand when the nurses pulled those drains out of my body.

I feel beyond guilty for taking my anxiety out on my husband. He’s done so much for me, and what do I give him in return? I’m often irritable, easily annoyed, and controlling. An outsider might label me as a nag, a critic, and a neat-freak. The truth is, everything is a side effect of having a beast of a disorder. Anxiety doesn’t play. It is relentless and tricky.

Anxiety lies to me, telling me that being happy is dangerous. What if something goes wrong? Anxiety tells me that I don’t deserve to let my guard down. Anxiety also has taught me that bad things are always going to happen, so I should be sure worry away the hours in preparation for what’s to come.

When I write this out, it is absolutely ridiculous. My true self knows that anxiety isn’t the bearer of truth. But my anxious self often wins the big and small battles and dominates my thoughts and actions. I’m not trying to shirk responsibility here. I’m still doing all the things I should, and they often succeed. I sometimes talk out loud—literally—to my anxiety, calling it out for the jerk it is.

I’ve learned to tell my husband straight-up how anxious I am and about an issue when it arises. I don’t conceal the fact that some things can unnerve me—quickly and viciously. He never once tells me to “chill out” or “take a deep breath” or “don’t worry about it.” He knows that I simply cannot let go and let God. That’s not how anxiety works.

My husband is incredibly patient, dedicated and, most of all, safe. I can trust him with my anxiety. Though I wish, with everything I have, that my anxiety would magically disappear—forever—so I wouldn’t burden anyone else with it ever again. Some days I want to issue one thousand apologies for something I said or did because anxiety won in that moment. However, I also tell myself, it is OK to have anxiety, that no human is perfect, and that I’m doing my very best to combat it.

I accept that my anxiety will never completely go away, though I am proud of how we’ve worked as a family to tame it. I’m practicing the necessary self-care, and my family is supportive. They were with me through those darkest days, and they understand why my anxiety slips into overdrive when I’m triggered by an anniversary date, a medical checkup, or even just catching a glimpse of a cancer pink ribbon.

I hope my partner knows how much I appreciate him for sticking with me in sickness and in health. Anxiety isn’t what I planned for, but since it’s here to stay, we’re learning to navigate it—together.